Afghanistan keen to trade with India via Wagah-Attari border
New Delhi, July 1 (IANS) Afghanistan wants to trade with India through the Wagah-Attari border and has urged Pakistan to work out a mechanism that would spur regional trade and boost economic engagement in South Asia.
"We are very keen to trade with India via Pakistan. Opening of the land route will substantially boost our trade," said Afghanistan's Commerce and Industry Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady.
He said Afghanistan was expecting a positive response from Pakistan.
"We are negotiating. There could be some transit fee. But the important thing is we should be allowed to import and export via Wagah border," Ahady, who was here to participate in Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan, told IANS in an interview.
Dry fruits from Afghanistan are very popular in India and it is mostly traded via Iran. If traded through the land route via Pakistan, the transit cost will come down substantially, benefiting both traders and consumers.
Afghanistan has a transit and trade agreement with Pakistan, but India is not covered under it.
In a significant departure from its policy, Pakistan this year has allowed export of 1 lakh tonne of wheat from India to Afghanistan through a port in Karachi.
Ahady said he was hopeful that Pakistan would allow trade between India and Afghanistan.
"If it happens, our bilateral trade can increase to $500 million or even more. Our current trade is insignificant," he said.
He said apart from dry fruits, Afghanistan can also export marble, cement and mineral products to India, while India can supply a whole lot of products from manufacturing to agricultural goods.
Ahady said the recent warmth in India-Pakistan trade relations would also benefit Afghanistan and other countries in the region.
Ahady urged the Indian government and companies to help build productive assets in Afghanistan.
"We are very close to India - both geographically and culturally. We urge Indian companies to come and help in building productive assets," he said, adding return on investment in Afghanistan was substantially higher than most parts in the world.
There is no substantial Indian investment in Afghanistan. Last year, a consortium led by government-run Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) won a contract to develop iron ore deposit in Bamyan Province of central Afghanistan.
The consortium has also got contract to build a 6 million tonne steel plant in the nearby area at a cost of around $11 billion.
Ahady said the proposed investment would play a significant role in development of Afghanistan.
Ahady claimed that security situation has improved in Afghanistan and the government was taking all necessary measures to facilitate investment.
"I and all other concerned ministers pay personal attention to the issues related to foreign investments. We want overseas investments in all sectors including mines, manufacturing and agriculture," he said.
He said that in many ways Afghanistan's company law gives shareholders the same rights that they enjoy in the US.
"We allow 100 percent foreign ownership of enterprises, easy repatriation of profits, treat foreign investors identical to domestic ones, and we allow accelerated depreciation," said Ahady.
(Gyanendra Kumar Keshri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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